What is Compost Tea?

During these next few months at HowToOrganics.com we’re celebrating one of the most effective organic turf care methods out there: compost tea. This useful tool is a supplement to traditional composting, and is due for some facetime. We’ll be writing and publishing a series of four articles this month about the use and efficacy of compost tea. Together we’ll explore what compost tea is, how it works, why it’s effective, and how to do it.

We are joined in this project by compost tea expert Jerry Erickson whose years of experience provide the framework for this article series.

If you’re not already using a compost tea mixture on your lawn, we are hoping that over the course of this month you’ll change your mind. If you are already using compost tea, keep reading for some useful information and practical tips to improve your compost tea experience.

What is Compost Tea?

Organic experts like Erickson often refer to compost tea as “liquid compost.” Regardless of what you call it, however, the product is the same. Compost tea is a liquid solution that contains a highly concentrated population of beneficial microbes and nutrients. We call this solution a “tea” partially in good fun, but also because the liquid solution is water-based (like tea). And just like natural herbs (and other such things) are soaked in water to provide tea with its flavor, compost tea acquires its extra microbes and nutrients when compost is steeped in water.

The best compost tea is made with compost that is at least partially decomposed. To this aged compost is added water. This mixture will need to “steep” for a while—just like traditional tea—and be regularly aerated to promote the infusion of microbes and nutrients.

This solution of compost and water essentially becomes a brew of beneficial bacteria and fungi. It is like a super-fertilizer, providing a ton of the necessary ingredients in plant growth. Gardeners and lawn care professionals who use compost tea attest to improved growth and less incidents of disease among the treated plants. Plus, compost tea is a natural fertilizer, which means the dangerous ingredients in chemicalized fertilizer aren’t spread all over your lawn, neighborhood, and community. (Check out our article on the dangers of chemicalized lawn care products here.)

Compost tea is an effective lawn care method, but should not be used as a total replacement for good, old fashioned composting. The two are designed to complement each other. Traditional composting is a soil-building tool, but doesn’t help to build and maintain the necessary microbes for a healthy lawn. This is perhaps the most important benefit of compost tea: it is an inoculant for microbial populations in the soil.

Microbes are incredibly important in soil health—and by extension plant health. According to Erickson, compost tea is similar to a bioreactor in that it’s an apparatus for important biological interactions to take place. Compost tea puts microbes in the soil that work, through biological and chemical reactions, to activate the nutrients and minerals in your soil, making them visible and useable by plants. (We’ll go into more detail on this later.) This ensures that the soil-building materials provided by regular compost-spreading (as well as any additional soil builders, like rock phosphate, you may use) are even useable by the plants you’re trying to grow.

At HowToOrganics.com, we believe that protecting the planet starts at home. Compost tea is an effective, sustainable tool for organic lawn care. The benefits are far reaching but start with simply eliminating the need for harmful chemical lawn care products. Sustainable lawn care is all about maintaining the right balance in your soil. By utilizing compost tea, you can be sure that important microbes—like beneficial bacteria and fungi—don’t get left useless in your compost pile.

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